Black Spruce and the Wildest Fires; Life Along the Yukon River

Ten years ago I celebrated the summer solstice at the Arctic Circle, ten hours to the north of Anchorage, Alaska. A week earlier, we had flown into Anchorage, one of the only real cities in the forty ninth state. We left Fairbanks at five p.m. to make it to the Arctic Circle before midnight for the solstice celebration. This is why I love my friends so very much. Who else would do such a random thing as drive a rental car four hours plus up a dirt road, literally in the middle of no where just to bat at mosquitos, take a few pictures and have this claim to fame? If you look at a map of Alaska between Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle you see nothing, besides well, a whole hell of a lot of Black Spruce. To the East is the Chena River State Recreation area amid all those spooky spruce trees. As you head farther north and start to approach the Yukon River you see the Steese National Conserve Area. The wooden bridge taking you over the Yukon River is the most exciting land mark on this long, very long drive. The landscape may have been barren, lonely and desolate but this night was one of the best nights of my life and a memory of my best friends that I will hold in my heart forever. As semi trucks loaded with supplies for the lonely pipe line towns that lay along the Dalton Highway blazed down this abandoned highway past us at eighty miles an hour, life time friendships were formed. We swatted at the mosquitos that got in the car when the boys got out to pee and prayed we would not pop a tire or crack the windshield with a rock flying up on the dirt road as we cruised down the Haul Road into the Alaska “night” A forest fire burned to the north of us and out here in the bush of Alaska they just let those fires burn wild.  The smoke hanging in the never-ending twilight air as the hours inched closer to mid night was just so creepy. Black Spruce are just about the only tree that can grow out of the perma frost out here and they are a creepy looking tree, especially sticking out of the smoky night air. We were almost twelve hours driving time from Prudhoe Bay to the north of us; a constant reminder as we saw the pipeline snaking along next to the highway for most of the drive north bound. The never-ending pipeline was a reminder of what a huge deserted state Alaska is. We stopped in Livingwell for gas; it’s a town of ten people and I’m pretty sure we met all of them between the gas pump and the little store inside. This summer solstice has to be the only business they see from tourists every year. The locals had a great time trying to scare the crap out of us as you are absolutely not allowed to take rental cars on this dirt road. They warned us to be extra careful traveling north in the dusty fading light as there are areas where there are six-inch dips in the dirt road and if you are cruising along at forty-five miles an hour and you hit one you can pop all four tires at once! This is what the nice guy working at the gas station informed us, any ways. Luckily they put up red flags near the biggest ones. After hearing this tale we were not sleepy at all. We were all looking for the red flags as the night grew longer and we traveled the abandoned road into the Alaska night.

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